While a choirboy at the Cathedral of St. Peter & Paul in Brno, the capital of Moravia, Alphonse Mucha had a divine revelation about the nature of the Baroque aesthetic. It took him to Vienna, Munich, and finally to Paris, where the 1900 Universal Exhibition brought him international renown. The spiritual and the commercial appear perfectly wedded in his work, but he was conflicted about this his entire life.
More than any other work by Mucha, this image established him as the master of wild hair, ethereal beauty, and erotic intent. The poster was used for years in many variants all over the world, sometimes with the marginal text in various languages, to promote Job cigarette rolling papers. A classic by any standard.
This work is so iconic, with such a profusion of lush fecundity and twirling tendrils, that we should point out the hops and wheat in the beer-maiden’s hair, and the monochrome rendering of the Meuse’s breweries at bottom. As if to say, “Yes, I fulfilled the brief.”
“This is one of the rarest posters by Mucha” (Rennert/Weill, p. 71), and it’s a perfect synthesis of the ideal and the real. The composition as a whole is a perfect idealization of the experience of fragrance: the radiant, heady halo, fueled by incense, blossoms, and woody notes. But the woman pictured is more tangible, and realistically drawn, than most other Mucha women.
This is an extremely rare artist’s proof print commissioned by the Chamber of Commerce and Czech House, published by Stern in 1900. And it is marvelously lush. The exceptionally adorned and coiffed young woman of the new century sits, with a frankly erotic gaze, holding between her left thumb and index finder a single stem that branches into a half-dozen white roses. In the background we can just make out the Pont Alexandre III, the Grand Palais and the Dome of Les Invalides in Paris. The image was also used as the cover of the July 1, 1905 issue of The Index (see Mucha/Bridges, p. 175). It’s #11 of 50 numbered proofs; this is the full sheet with printer stamp.